Michigan Republicans rejoice at demise of Roe v. Wade, push to make abortion illegal in state

Majority of Michiganders disagree with GOP’s stance on abortion, according to poll

By: - June 27, 2022 2:22 pm

At the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, a few dozen people gathered on June 24, 2022 to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. | Photo by Andrew Roth

While Michigan Democrats and pro-choice advocates express shock and anger at Friday’s rejection of Roe v. Wade by the United States Supreme Court, Republican lawmakers and candidates for the state’s top offices are universal in their celebration of the decision.

The overwhelming support from GOP candidates and lawmakers, as well as their push to make abortion illegal in Michigan, comes as the majority of the public does not agree with the Republicans’ stances, according to a January 2022 poll by WDIV and The Detroit News. That poll reported 67.3% of Michiganders supported Roe v. Wade and 65.7% backed repealing Michigan’s 1931 ban on abortion. Another 77% believe abortion should be a woman’s decision.

Among the GOP candidates seeking the gubernatorial nomination on Aug. 2, right-wing personality Tudor Dixon used the Supreme Court’s decision to fight back against accusations that she has flip-flopped on her position.

In September, Dixon was asked if she supported any abortion exceptions, even for the health of the mother, to which she responded “no exceptions.” However, when asked in May on the topic, she said she did believe in an exception for the life of the mother.

When called out on Friday by American Bridge 21st Century, a Super PAC that supports Democratic candidates, Dixon tweeted that she has not switched her position. 

Tudor Dixon participates in a GOP gubernatorial debate as part of the Mackinac Island Policy Conference, June 2, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

“I’m pro-Life,” Dixon wrote. “My only exception is to protect the LIFE of the mother. That has never changed…I am the mother of 5 girls. We lost one of our beautiful baby girls at 18 weeks. I know what a Life is and I know it’s worth protecting.”

She also posted pictures of her attending what she called “a time of celebration and prayer at Muskegon Pregnancy Services after the fall of Roe,” adding, “We will protect life in Michigan!”

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S., abortion remains legal in Michigan. The state has a law enacted in 1931 that criminalizes abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest, but enforcement of it is on hold due to a court injunction granted in a suit filed by Planned Parenthood to block the Michigan’s abortion ban.

The 1931 law, which also makes advertising or selling abortion medications a misdemeanor, does not criminalize an abortion if the pregnant person’s life is in danger. 

Businessman Kevin Rinke, a fellow gubernatorial candidate, issued a statement following Friday’s decision saying that despite overturning a nearly 50-year-old precedent, the high court had made the right decision.

“SCOTUS acted appropriately by letting the people of Michigan make their own decision,” said Rinke. “I have always believed this should be a state’s rights issue. Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was openly critical of how the Court handled the decision decades ago. As governor, I will ensure that Michigan is a state that respects the sanctity of life.”

Ginsburg did criticize Roe, but not because she was against abortion. The former justice, who died in 2020, said the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 tried to do too much, too fast and left the ruling open to attacks.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity,” Ginsburg said at her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings.

“When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices,” Ginsburg continued.

Also speaking out in favor of the ruling was the Rev. Ralph Rebandt, who is making a bid for governor.

“This is epic and every person who values life has reason to celebrate this moment,” he tweeted. “This is the beginning of great things to come-an answer(ed) prayer by millions…”

Other GOP gubernatorial candidates include Kalamazoo-area chiropractor Garrett Soldano, who in January said he didn’t believe in any exceptions for abortion – including rape.

“How about we start inspiring women in the culture to let them know how heroic they are and how unbelievable they are?” he asked. “That God put them in this moment and they don’t know that little baby inside them may be the next president.”

On Friday, Soldano’s campaign called the overturning of Roe “a victory for life” and added “the battle is not over.”

Our administration will fight to expand adoption access, support our pregnancy centers and our pregnant mothers, and will enforce Michigan laws that protect innocent life,” Soldano’s campaign wrote.

Meanwhile, Ryan Kelley, who was arrested earlier this month on charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection, has stated unequivocally that he supported a full reversal of Roe.

On Friday, Kelley issued a statement cheering the Supreme Court’s decision.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley attends a Republican gubernatorial in Howell on May 13, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

“The fight is just beginning,” he said. “Now, it is time to work on making Michigan a pro-life state.

“Pro-aborts will come after you for your pro-life beliefs,” Kelly continued. “They will riot and otherwise threaten you. They will rage against the dying of this evil, but they have already lost, and they know it.”

Across Michigan, peaceful protests were held on Friday and throughout the weekend against the Supreme Court’s decision. 

While not on the August primary ballot because of a fraudulent petition-signature scandal, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig is running a write-in campaign.

Last September, Craig was caught on tape saying he would block any attempt by Democrats to repeal Michigan’s 91-year-old ban on abortion.

The GOP gubernatorial candidate who wins in the August primary will go on to run against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the November election. In April, Whitmer filed a lawsuit seeking to recognize the right to an abortion under the state constitution. On Friday, she filed a motion urging the state Supreme Court to take up her lawsuit.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks to the crowd gathered outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing for a protest against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. | Photo by Andrew Roth

“With today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, Michigan’s extreme 1931 law banning abortion without exceptions for rape or incest and criminalizing doctors and nurses who provide reproductive care is poised to take effect,” Whitmer said in a statement issued Friday. “If the 1931 law goes into effect, it will punish women and strip away their right to make decisions about their own bodies. That is why I filed a lawsuit in April and used my executive authority to urge the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately resolve whether Michigan’s state constitution protects the right to abortion. I will fight like hell to protect the rights of Michigan women.” 

Regardless of what happens with Whitmer’s lawsuit, Michiganders may be able to vote on the Reproductive Freedom For All ballot initiative in the November election. The proposal would enshrine the right to abortion in the Michigan state constitution. The groups behind the proposal – the ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Michigan Voices – are currently working to secure the necessary signatures for the proposal to be on the ballot. The proposal would also amend the state constitution to include people’s right to birth control, miscarriage care, and prenatal care.

Also seeking statewide office is Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno, who tweeted that Friday’s decision was “a great day for all Americans – born and unborn!”

“I am thrilled to read the opinion of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” stated DePerno. “We finally have a law that upholds the lives of all Americans – born and unborn. As your Attorney General I will uphold the Constitution and the laws of our country. This is the vital role of all elected officials and particularly our law enforcement.”

DePerno, who is backed by former President Donald Trump and has repeatedly espoused conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, is running against Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, in the November election. 

On Friday, Nessel called the overturning of Roe “not just the loss of a right” but “the erosion of our status as equal citizens under the law.

“As a nation, we trust in our highest court to hold sacred their duty, free from political whim,” Nessel said. “Today’s decision sets a dangerous precedent in reversing 50 years’ of settled law; creating extraordinary upheaval in the American legal system; and putting at risk other individual rights that generations of Americans fought to secure and preserve.  “

Nessel has vowed that she would refuse to defend the 1931 abortion ban.

“I didn’t become attorney general so that I could head an office that puts women in a position in which some of them will likely die,” Nessel said in April.

Nessel said she would “never utilize this outdated, dangerous, cruel law to prosecute women and their doctors.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), April 21, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Republicans already in office are pushing to make abortion illegal in the state.

Last Wednesday, state Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) introduced a bill to update the state’s 1931 abortion ban to “make it enforceable post-Roe” and make it so an individual who performs or attempts to perform an abortion, except to save a “pregnant woman,” will be guilty of manslaughter. The charge includes a maximum sentence of not more than 10 years in prison and a fine of no more than $100,000. The bill was referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

In the state Senate, Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those, like Sue and I, who believe in the precious miracle of life,” Shirkey stated, referring to his wife. “It also affirms the importance of federalism and states’ rights.”

Shirkey acknowledged that the decision was a divisive one and hoped an accommodation could be reached, though he did not specify what that would entail. 

“At this critical moment, every American – especially those in elected office – has an important decision to make,” he said. “We can seek common ground, or we can contribute to the widening divisions between our people.”

State Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), co-chair of the legislative Pro-Life Caucus, called the decision “a historic moment and a win for the sanctity of life.” 

“The people of Michigan’s power to protect the lives of preborn babies has been restored,” said Bollin. “The work we’ve been doing to encourage pro-family policies is more important now than ever before. We must continue to have discussions with others about how to protect babies in the womb and lift up mothers and children who are struggling.”

But Republicans have not lifted struggling mothers and children, members of Mothering Justice, a Detroit-based racial and gender justice advocacy organization, said at a recent march in Lansing.

At the June 15 march, Mothering Justice members said the overturn of Roe will be particularly traumatic for Black women and other women of color because systemic racism has left them to navigate an environment that’s often toxic – literally and metaphorically – for them and their families, including poverty, limited access to health care, and dangerous environment problems like breathing toxic air, among a litany of other issues.

“We’re in a state of emergency whether you know it or not,” Trische Duckworth, a community organizer from Ypsilanti and the founder of Survivors Speak, said during Mothering Justice’s march. “Our voting rights, our women’s reproductive rights. We can’t even get paid time off. Who does that? Who sees a woman suffering but does not render her what she needs to be successful as a mother? Who does that? People that are sitting in offices making decisions for us without us.”

Michigan Advance Assistant Editor Anna Gustafson contributed reporting to this story.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.